Bring young people to teach – check, Integration of subjects – check, more lifelike learning – check, more practical experiments – check – This list could go on and still we could discuss about whether there are enough of those elements in the educational system? I would draw a parallel to nature – There is not one magic thing that will cure the nature – the combination of all is what matters. Nevertheless, we should not forget the smaller ecosystem where we are at the moment (when being underwater, we have to remember to breathe differently and to be able to swim). The same applies to schools, different ages, different systems – all are small ecosystems inside the bigger overall cycle.
This pops up the questions for me. Do schools define their small ecosystems? Do they position themselves in the overall plan? What is the centre of their value? Do they set the course, or they adjust the course according to the overall plan? I have had successful learning projects and I have failed with the same project. The reasons were unknown at first but with experience I understood that although the Project itself stayed the same the kids and times changed – and yes just after one year. So, I failed to understand the small ecosystem and connection to the bigger Picture. What was missing for me the times I failed?
What could be the solution? But am I solving the right problem?
I am on my way to work, to teach chemistry, physics and math. I wonder why students should want to learn or do anything with such a nice spring weather outside. I should talk with my colleagues, but they are so amazing and busy, it feels bad to ask them time for my nonsense discussion. This makes my job quite difficult, I have to do something, so I lean to the curriculum and some amazing lab experiments – so children remember we had fun. I forget those questions I asked before as I am confused, to where I should relate myself? Where is my small ecosystem and how it is connected to the bigger Picture?
I hope that I am not alone with kind of thoughts. Among those thoughts I have gotten into following ideology how to bring good educational projects into life.
1. Where we have positioned ourselves in our small ecosystem? Does this position have a perspective to be durable and long lasting? If not, we have to make a change – if yes, we can proceed further.
2. Have we given the right tools for our students to give feedback, to let them be heard the way they want to be heard?
3. Are we able to change our behavior according to the changed world? Accept new technologies, to learn ourselves to show example?
4. Are we able to focus on the strengths of the people around us in the community to get them all to support development of our small ecosystem?
5. Are we willing to make mistakes along the way and look at the mirror at the same time?
I believe that people must find their way not by forcing them to make a hard choice – join or be exiled – but rather letting them figure out what is their ecosystem and how they are connected to the bigger Picture.
In order to be more specific and start somewhere where we can grasp one end of a rope, I am pleased to share some frame documents which all give a systematic approach for integrating subjects, develop teambuilding, to bring school closer to community. All this can be achieved with small steps, so the big change does not look so scary. This toolkit that was developed through the Erasmus+ Project sySTEAM.
These tools will give more detailed and concrete approach to set goals and give feedback along the way.
1. State of the Art of STEM Technologies with Applications in the Classroom
2. Guidelines for Adopting Technologies in School
3. STEAM Readiness Level Framework
4. STEAM Implementation Guidelines
5. School-Business-NGOs Cooperation Guidelines
6. Guidelines for Integrating Different Subjects
But overall formula for developing and applying best practices is through systematic approach. I will be specific about my own Project. The idea was to build a scaled planetary system to school hallway. First year all went ok and students enjoyed the process. Next year for some reason it did not go so well. At the end I understood that I should have introduced my Project to other teachers (math, technology and language) before the school year. So, we could discuss what is the best outcome and tools necessary for this class. After realizing this and applying this course of action, the results were much better than the first year.
So now we have better Toolset to work with, to bring other teachers on board and truly cooperate and have value-based teamwork at hand. All we needed was a common tool through what we can understand each other as intended.
How should we make use of these documents?
I am eager to share my experience how did we managed to design our Project „Planetary system“.
I looked at the curriculum and topic planetary system seemed a bit dry. Yes, there are a lot of information and pictures, but it is theory. For students just to read, discuss and watch video clips seemed too common already. So I asked myself a question how to make this topic more alive for my students? This was my problem I started to solve.
I asked one meeting with all the teachers for this class and asked 15 minutes just to bounce ideas. Not to develop anything, just brainstorming. Most of the teachers found this time and from that meeting we got ourselves an overall goal – Class will make a model for planetary system and each student will present planet they worked with.
I was happy as I understood the goal and other teachers were also intrigued although they were suspicious about extra time that is needed fort to develop this Project. My idea was to tackle that problem in next phases.
We had a goal! What I learned from that meeting that in order to head I should bring less people behind the table in order to proceed with better productivity. So, I agreed to the meetings just with a couple of teachers for a limited time, max 30 minutes. I had that kind of meetings with different groups a few times. The agenda was to map what competences students use to make this kind of Project?
End result was better than expected. I got really good insight and was overwhelmed by how much effort is needed to make this Project happen. For some examples – students have to know how to calculate really big numbers, standard form for numbers, scaling, measuring, searching for information (history, mythology, science), functional reading and understanding, design, creativity, technology. But as we were pushing things even further students had to use their imagination – What we have to change in humans in order to survive on different planets. This all will be combined into big group process, as they have to measure together where their planets are situated on the corridor wall.
As a result, we got a lot of connections with curriculum and decided that in order to teach the topics separately and then make the Project we taught those connections through that Project. Students had one big assignment and we coordinated all the lessons needed to be in a logical order. From general to specific.
YESS! We managed to clear the problem of extra time being used for the Project. As we had one big Project and connections to curriculum, teacher used LESS time to prepare the lesson, LESS time to evaluate – as students could not proceed before they have understood where they are in the process and what to do next.
To finalize the Project student had to make planets in scale from plywood. There we could use CNC technology with ScetchUp (3D design).
The end result was enjoyed by the whole school as students presented their work so they could gain confidence in public speaking.
We were happy and had constructive and fun discussions after all that where we analyzed and made some plans on how to improve or what to emphasize next year with the same Project.
All this process, bringing teachers together, finding connections with curriculum, what competences we develop, what technologies we use would have been much harder if we would not have had a framework described earlier.
We have common goal with all the teachers, we cooperate, discuss, accept, execute and analyse. Usually we want everything to work straight away and if something does not go right, we just search for something new, hoping that the next thing is a miracle that works straight away. Recommended toolkit is suitable to take things step by step, analysing the last step and changing the pace, if needed.
All that has an ending has a beginning. When circling back to the beginning of this article I still see that there are always more truths out there then we can imagine. We just have to set a common goal and some first steps to achieve it – along the way, please ask for help and be ready to take advantage if someone offers help
Project sySTEAM – systematic approach for implementation of STEAM education in schools (2017-1-LT01-KA201-035288) is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union. The project is implemented by Virolai E.M.S.A., Kiviõli I High School, Vilnius Žemynos Gymnasium, Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation, Sihtasutus Omanäolise Kooli Arenduskeskus and Knowledge Economy Forum.